Native Americans of the Abenaki and other tribes inhabited the area of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, (population 20,495) for hundreds of years before the first Europeans arrived. The earliest settlers were Englishmen, who established a village in 1630. The town was named Piscataqua, after the Abenaki name for the river, though the name was later changed to Strawbery Banke. Strategically well located to trade with both upstream industries and foreign merchants, the port prospered. Fishing, lumbering, and shipbuilding were the town’s major industries.

Portsmouth was incorporated in 1653 and named to honor its founder, John Mason, who had been a captain of Portsmouth, England. The city became a colonial capital in 1679, though during the Revolutionary War the capital was moved inland for safety. Portsmouth continued to grow through the 19th century, until it was incorporated as a city in 1849. The Industrial Revolution stimulated growth in many New Hampshire towns further inland, where rivers powered mills. Economic growth shifted to these new mill towns, and Portsmouth began to decline.

During its heyday, Portsmouth expressed its shipbuilding wealth in part with fine architecture. Today the city contains many examples of Colonial, Georgian, and Federal style buildings, though several devastating fires occurred in the early 1800s. Home to the largest collection of historic houses in America, Portsmouth is also the location of seven National Historic Landmarks and the oldest continuously operating Navy shipyard in the nation, founded in 1800 and still functioning.

The Portsmouth Historical Society was founded in 1917 to preserve and maintain the 1781 house of John Paul Jones. The society runs the newly opened Discover Portsmouth Center (DPC), as well as providing many educational opportunities, tours, and other programs. Located in two historic buildings that formerly housed the Portsmouth Public Library, the Academy and the Benedict Houses, the DPC is the result of a 2007 proposal by the society to create a central gateway to the historical, cultural, and artistic sites and venues all around greater Portsmouth.

The Discover Portsmouth Center also provides office space for some of the 20 + historical and cultural organizations of the area. These organizations produce many year-round and seasonal events, including the Strawbery Banke Museum’s annual July 4th celebration, which incorporates a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens. The Strawbery Banke Museum maintains an extensive collection of historic buildings, artifacts, and archives on the grounds of its living history museum.

Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2010.

For more information

City of Portsmouth Historic District Commission

Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce

Portsmouth Historical Society

Strawbery Banke Museum